So fast…

It’s been a long time since I last wrote to you Baby Stella–if I can still call you a baby.  You’re getting so big and so intelligent!  In the past 2 weeks you’ve started sitting yourself up, crawling, and now pulling yourself up on everything. Everything! No longer content to roll around on the floor after plastic balls and tiny toys, the world is your playground.  You love to open and close doors, pull out folded laundry and pat the dogs with your sticky hands during lunch.  You clap and dance, swinging your elbows and shaking your head, when you hear music, and when there is no music, you sing to yourself, or dance to the music in your own head.  You look for us around corners and turn to find the source of sounds, whether they be heliocopters or lawn mowers or a bird in a tree. You sometimes hold one of my fingers while you nurse, often times pinning my arm into a hug.

You say da-da-da-da all day long, shriek when you are happy, grunt when you are stimulated, and make a small noise, a ta-ta-ta-ta with your tounge when you are thinking or being sweet.

You wave hello when we say hi, clap when we clap.  Sometimes you look to see why it is that we are clapping, as if wondering when you’ll be let in on the joke.  When we say “ta-da!” you raise your hands high over your head.  Then you do it again and again so that we will say “ta-da!”  You love this game.  When someone leaves, you wave good-bye, but not until they’ve already left.

Changing your diaper is like wrestling an alligator that’s taken bath salts. Every. Single. Time.  It’s my least favorite time. Not the poop.  The struggle. Oye.

Every night we have a big discussion about what jammies to put you in so that you’ll be comfy.  Tonight, it was a little warm, but not too warm.  You’re too tall now for many of your best jammies (namely the purple polar bear with white polka-dot jammies that have been your uniform since December).  I pulled out a 2 piece pajama set that was handed down, size 12 months.  I figured they might be big, but no:sleeping stella They fit perfectly.

Not since you were 3 months old and moved into your crib from our room have I shed a tear over how much you’ve grown.  I handle your milestones with pride and look forward to so many more of them.  But tonight, you wore big kid pajamas and it was almost like I didn’t recognize you.  You look more like the kid you’re becoming than the baby you were, and it was so hard to have that realization.

You’ve already had your first Christmas, first vacation, first meal, first tooth, first bruise…so many firsts. First hugs, first friends, first fears. I know there are so many firsts yet to come, but today…today reminded me of when you were born.  I stopped being pregnant and realized the significance of having a baby–being a mom.  Today, I feel like I stopped having a baby and started having a kid. It’s something I look forward to, immensely.  I’m dying to take you so many places and show you so much.  But to know that the tiny baby days are long gone is so hard.

So, tonight, in your big kid jammies, after I nursed you on your quilt, I rubbed your back. I patted your hair and did “one finger” massage the way my mom did when I was a kid.  You’ve never really tolerated lying still with me, not since you could roll.  I am making more of an effort to sop up these moments and absorb the feeling of your small snuggley innocence.  When you hold my finger as you nurse, as you drift off to a dusky sleep, I will leave my finger in your chubby fist and be so grateful for these moments.

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6 month update

It’s been a little too long since I wrote an update for you, Baby Stella, so let’s see what I’ve missed.  You roll all over the place now–left to right, to get whatever you want.  The days of me being able to place you in the middle of a blanket and come back to you in the same spot are long gone.  You’re a squirmy wormy when it comes to being changed or fed or played with, but that’s ok.  It’s good to see you so active.  A couple of times I’ve seen you thinking about how to crawl and it gives me chills to see the cogs in motion.  It’ll happen any day now.

You’re still a super friendly kid, but can get startled now if we’re playing peek-a-boo or I make a sudden motion to get you and you’re not ready.  But, you bouce back quickly.  You’re more curious about strange people now, not quite as quick to flash a big smile.

You got 2 teeth at once, it’s been a few weeks now.  No signs of top teeth yet, but those will be along soon enough.

My favorite things that 6 Month old baby Stella does:

  • Grabs her toes whenever she can
  • looks at the photos of “the baby” on the stairway wall–I’m not sure if she  know that’s her or not, but she sure does like that baby
  • grabs at the dogs, especially kayden.  Poor guy is going to get his eyes poked but he keeps coming back.
  • singing, especially when you’re excited about something, like a book or a big painting.  Today, Stella sang along with the rolling stones in the car.  No joke–she made the “whoohoo” sound that the backing vocals did.  It was a proud mom moment.
  • falls asleep on my shoulder.  I mean, what better way to snuggle.

Happy half-birthday, Baby Stella! 1 year will be here before I know it!

What Open Heart Surgery Looks like

One thing I tell lots of parents facing their child’s Tetrology of Fallot repair is to prepare themselves for what their baby looks like post-op.  I’d never seen anyone after major surgery, let alone my little baby there in the hospital crib.  The swelling from fluid retention, the intubation, the IVs and lines…it can be overwhelming.  We documented our baby’s hospital stay, taking a photo at the end of each day so that we could see the progress as different machines and tubes were removed.  Warning: it’s a little rough.  But, maybe, just maybe, it’ll be easier to see your baby if you’ve seen mine go through it first.

day 1

The first afternoon right after surgery. She’s got 3 chest tubes, pace wires, a breathing tube, and more. She’s completely sedated. The most disturbing thing for me was seeing her eyes swollen shut–this is because the bypass machine causes fluid to build up.

day 2

Day 2-still sedated. Not much change yet.

day 3 a

Day 3: now we start to see progress. It was hard to see the incision area, but good to see how small it was at the same time. Now you can see the chest tubes and pace wires in her abdomen clearly.

day 3 b

Day 3 (evening): The sedation was backed off so she could wake up. Looking back at this photo is hard because I didn’t know babies could frown, but I see the sadness in her face, looking to me to comfort her.. I still remember how raspy she sounded because of the fluid in her chest. She could not move much, but was aware that we were there.

day 3 c

Here is a closer look at her incision on day 3

day 4 a

Day 4: What a difference 24 hours makes! Our baby is bright and alert–ready to be held. I was even able to nurse her. At this point she had at least 1 of the 3 chest tubes removed and was on “room” oxygen…no real assistance for her breathing.

day 4

Day 4: It’s a wonderful feeling, getting to hold your baby for the first time after this ordeal. She was happy to be picked up.

last day

Day 5: ready to be discharged, Stella was no longer on oxygen, breathing tubes or drainage tubes. She left the hospital on lasix (to help keep fluid from building up in her chest) and tylenol. No heavy pain relievers. Once we were home she only needed a little bit of tylenol for a few days…not very long.

dec

6 Weeks post op! She is able to be picked up normally, get regular baths, etc…all is normal. She was still on lasix at this time, but not very much. The scar is fading fast!

About 4 months post op.  She is no longer on any medications and is developing normally.  Sleeping well, starting solid foods, rolling a lot!

About 4 months post op. She is no longer on any medications and is developing normally. Sleeping well, starting solid foods, rolling a lot!

patch

This is the swatch of fabric that the surgeon cut her VSD patch from. So small! The piece of fabric used to create her valve is about the size of the end of my thumb.


 We were very fortunate in many ways–Stella had very few, if any, real complications post op.  No fevers, infection, etc.  So, everyone’s experience is different.  You may stay longer in the hospital than we did–but this gives you just an idea of how fast they might progress.

3 months old

Dear Baby Stella,

Today you turned 3 months old–the time frame most people told us that a newborn would be less fussy and more fun.  For the most part, they are right.  You sleep well, finally are starting to nap, and are crying with more purpose now, not just because you need walked or rocked.
You smile a coy smile when we smile at you, when we’re changing your diaper, or when we’re picking you up off of your play mat.  When you smile at someone else I can see that you are smiling, just because your chubby cheeks scrunch up.

The other day you laughed at me as I was playing with your carrier toy “Mr. H.”  You have a goofy laugh.  “Uh-huh-huh.”  I love it. You’ll be snorting before you know it.

Because you’re getting to be a big girl, we’ve moved you to your crib tonight.  I’m watching on the monitor as you spit your binky out, wake up and fuss a bit.  This comes with the territory.  You’re not hooked on the binky, but you can get in ruts of needing it.

I’ve shed a few tears and sniffles over you moving to the crib, away from our room.  Except for  the one night when you were in the hospital after you were born that we went home to get some sleep, we’ve never slept apart.  You were always within a few feet of me.  I hate missing your bedtime.  It’s bad enough that I miss you kicking my belly at night, but now I have to move you to the crib.  It’s much harder than I expected.

Since your surgery, you’re a much better eater, and finally nursing has become an enjoyable experience for the two of us.  Sometimes I hear that little “uh-huh” laugh while you eat and I wonder what’s so funny.

My favorite things that 3 month old Stella does:

  • after you sneeze you say, “oooh” or “ewww”
  • sometimes when you sneeze, cough or cry you fart.  it’s cute.
  • you’re learning to roll so you swing your legs around in the air a lot.  it’s really funny when you’re naked, airing out your bum.
  • you do a little head bob, a “yes”, when you’re excited, almost like a little dance.  I first noticed it when we put you in your jumparoo for the first time.
  • your awe and wonder during bathtime is amazing! I love how you kick and splash and then become totally still and curious if I trickle a little water on your belly.

 

How a first time mom started cloth diapering

About three months into my pregnancy my husband, the more eco-friendly of the two of us, suggested that we do cloth diapers.  Despite his offers to wash all the diapers I told him he was nuts.  It would be too much work, stinky diaper bins and messes in our washing machine.  Then I got to thinking I should at least check this whole thing out.  Turns out that cloth diapers are not the hassle that my mother had with me 31 years ago, even though she had a diaper service!  There seems to be a cult of cloth diapering fanatics out there, and I think I’ve just been converted.

So, how did I start on this cloth diapering?  The hardest part was understanding the differences between things like “pocket” diapers, “AIO”, prefolds, etc.  Honestly, I’m still not sure I understand all of them completely.  What I knew that I needed was something low-maintenance–not a lot of fussing to stuff a basic diaper. But, I didn’t mind having to do a little work either.  I decided I wanted to start with a fully washable diaper (no disposable bits) so that was my first factor.  (I knew I could pick up a few diapers with flushable parts later, if the washing became too much.)

I liked the look of the cloth diapers so much that my baby wore nothing else in her newborn photoshoot. (Photo by Feowyn Mackinnon)

 

Then, I needed to decide what my priorities were for sizing: most pocket diapers seem to come in sizes, though some require just 2-3 size upgrades over the whole two years.  (Thirsties diapers, for example.)  A pretty daunting task, considering how quickly babies grow! (Our baby was in 3 mo. clothes at 4 weeks old!)  But, my concern was that I wouldn’t have the right size to start and that I’d have to make continual upgrades–thereby increasing the cost.  You see, as eco-friendly as my husband is, I’m budget friendly, that is to say, cheap.  I wasn’t interested in pursuing this too much if it wasn’t at least close to a break-even proposition with disposables.  It was tough to forecast our long-term investment with this plan.

Ultimately, I found the BumGenius 4.0 pocket diaper–a stuffable one size fits all (actually most, since it starts at 8 Lbs. plus).  The diaper has a snap-adjustable rise and the option to have snapping or aplix (aka velcro) closures.  Some people said the aplix wore out or got snagged a lot, so I went with snaps.

Now, back to being a cheapo…I had to find the best deal.  If I was going to drop hundreds of bucks on diapers, I needed to get more for the money.  Some price comparisons took me to The Green Nursery, and their bundle diaper deals

.  I got to pick the color and style and still get the benefit of buying bulk.  I ordered my first bundle of 12, just to make sure they were up to our needs (fit, fabric, function) and they worked well for both diaperers and the diaperee, so I bought 12 more.

In hindsight, I’m glad I went with the stuffable 4.0 versus one of the diapers that has an attached liner…here’s why:

One of the millions of things no one tells a first time mom is that you do not need to wake your baby up multiple times a night to change your baby.  When I eventually learned this golden piece of information, I was finally able to keep my baby dry without sacrificing sleep.  All it takes for us is to double stuff the diaper with the two inserts that come with the 4.0 and let the snaps out an extra size–we’ve got a bulky, but dry baby for 10-11 hours overnight.

One thing I’m not so sure about: the snaps.  Our chubby bunny was already too big for the smallest setting at just 8 lbs (the size the 4.0’s recommend starting at) and by the time she hit 9 lbs. or so she was between settings–so the waistband is snapped unevenly to accommodate her.  In another week or so she’ll be back to even, but I think the waist sizing would have been better with the aplix.  Since I’ve already bought all the (24) diapers we’ll need, I guess I’ll never know the answer to this.

Occasionally, there is some wicking at the leg gussets (a word I didn’t know before cloth diapering) but that might be a sizing/wetness issue on our part.  Fortunately (knock on wood!) there have been NO poop leaks in 5 weeks of constant use.  Considering we had 4 blow outs in ‘sposies in the first 2 weeks, I’d say this is much better.

I’d planned to write a bit more on the accessories that I’ve started to collect for my CD’ing fixation, but the baby is crying, so more on that stuff soon…

 

 

 

What to Expect in NICU

I was about 19 weeks pregnant when an ultrasound showed that the baby had a congenital heart defect. While I was grateful for the heads up about the condition and the prolonged hospital stay, I can’t say that it really prepared me for what NICU would be like.  As we’re now gearing up to head back to the hospital for the surgery to repair her heart, I’m making my mental preparations for what a stay in NICU or PICU means.

If you stay in NICU with your child, don’t expect much sleep.  I know, I know, you’re used to not getting sleep as it is.  But, while it’s helpful to have nurses around to change and feed the baby, there are also monitors shouting out false alarms and swarms of doctors coming in for procedures.  Not to mention the lights are always on.  Even if you have a family suite there is little to no privacy.  In fact, we had a “shared room” with another baby (and their family) in step down.  So, that meant two babies crying through the night.  At the very least, step outside every day.  Sunlight and fresh air will help clear your head so that you’re prepared for the tough situation.  But don’t feel badly about going home for a shower, a salad or a good night’s sleep.

Bring what you need to feel comfortable.  Packing food or even just a water bottle can prevent you from dropping money at the cafeteria or in vending machines.  Toiletries are a good idea–having brushed your teeth will help you feel a little more human.   If you need to bring a laptop for occasional distraction, do so.  For me, my comforts were a nursing cami, a comfy yoga blanket, and a few healthy snacks.

If you want visitors, invite friends and family.  You might need to reassure them–some people are afraid of what NICU might be like.  If you need quiet, don’t hesitate to let the nurses bounce unwanted guests.  Turn off your cell.  The number of well intentioned messages from people checking in on you can get overwhelming.

It’s easy to want to empathize with the other parents on your NICU floor.  Afterall, who undestands what they’re going through better than you do.  Actually, you don’t have a clue.  You have no idea how long they’ve been staying there, if they’re separated from the rest of the family and most importantly, what their kid’s prognosis is.  You might think that your week long stay has been rough, when it turns out that family has been there for months, with no end in sight.  If you’re riding an elevator with an exhausted looking parent, a smile or nod is enough reassurance to let them know they’re not alone.

On the other hand, some patients have few or no visitors.  Don’t judge–parents might be sickly themselves, be too far to visit or have obligations to other children or jobs that keep them from visiting, let alone staying in the NICU.  It’s rough to see other children in incubators, alone, in dim rooms.  Heartbreaking in fact.

Your child’s release can be delayed for any number of reasons.  Our transition from NICU to a step down room was delayed 5 days, just waiting for a bed to open.  After that, we had to wait on various procedures to be completed before the doctors would approve the release, but of course, all of these procedures are limited to their shifts.   Don’t listen to anyone that tells you that you “might” be moving or released…you’ll know you’re getting out of there when you’re heading to the parking lot with your child in tow.

Don’t get your hopes up, but make sure you press your doctors and nurses to put through paperwork or complete procedures in a timely fashion.

And, as my pediatrician warned me, something always goes wrong.  Just be ready for that.  It’s a total cliche, but be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.

Stella’s Arrival, part one: Labor and Delivery

Baby Stella turned four weeks old today, so sadly my chance to relay these facts with a fresh memory has passed.  But, these past four weeks have been busy, to say the least.

On Tuesday August 7th, I went for a follow-up visit to my OB.  I knew that she’d be pushing me to schedule an induction, as it had already been brought up a week earlier.  I was trying my best to avoid the pitocin and a scheduled birth, but I knew that I’d put up all the fight that I had in me.  They did a quick assessment of the baby (including using a stimulator to wake her up inside me) while a nurse booked my appointment.  She came back and handed me a slip of paper with a number to call to confirm my induction for that Wednesday at midnight.

I proceeded to walk, climb stairs, do laundry, eat spicy food, and have S. give me foot rubs in hopes of labor inducing magic. But no go.  S. and I went to one of our fav little restaurants for burgers so that I could eat a big meal before I wasn’t allowed to eat.  As we took the check our server told us to “have fun tonight”.  If only he knew.  We went home to nap.  Unable to sleep, I played Words With Friends and checked on the Olympic results, knowing I was going to miss the US airings.  Midnight came and it was finally time.

I got checked in, put on a gown and tried to relax.  The hospital had little nature videos to listen to while you tried to rest, so i put them on and slept.  My doula sat in the rocker while S, paced the floor.  He was feeling sick, covering himself in the yoga blanket I’d packed.  He blamed it on the bacon and egg burger he’d had earlier, but didn’t seem to realize that it must have been his nerves, the immensity of the situation that wasn’t sitting well.  At 2am they started my pitocin drip and I dozed on and off, checking the clock as they increased my doses hourly.  Come morning I walked the halls eating grape popsicles, S. pushing my IV pole.  I felt great.  One doctor commented that I looked too happy to be in labor.

That’s because I wasn’t.  Not until much later.  Sometime after noon, in the midst of my dad trying to visit and doctors coming to give me a spiel about our daughters Tetralogy labor kicked in.  I was in the bed, feeling a bit sickly, and I asked S. to climb in with me.  He did, but a moment later I had to get up.  I had a terrible need to go to the bathroom, so I wheeled my pole in and squatted, but nothing seemed to help.  I went back into the room and as I was washing my hands I felt a terrible pressure, causing me to lean against the sink.  I was hunched down when I saw a splatter of water across my gold flip-flops.  “So that’s what it’s like to have your water break”, I thought.  That’s when it kicked off.  There would be no more walking, no more popsicles.  I couldn’t sit, stand or lie down.  I tried sitting on the ball.  Rocking in a chair.  There was no start or stop to the contractions–just a pressure that if I was forced to describe would be a combination of having to make the largest bowl movement of your life while someone shot you in the intestines.

I attempted natural labor for a while longer (how long exactly is unclear to me now) but it was terrible.  I asked the nurse for an epidural.  She suggested they check to see how far dilated I was, so I complied, but told myself that unless I was 9 cm or more, I wanted the epidural.  The exam revealed me to be 6 cm, just 2 cm more than I’d walked in at, (and had been for several weeks).  I flatly asked for the epidural.  I sat quivering at the edge of my bed, leaning into a nursing student, trying to stay still through a contraction as they did the spinal.  A few moments later, I was back in bed, asleep.

I don’t remember much more, except that a nurse came in and woke me, asking if I felt like pushing.  Yes.  Yes, I did.  I rolled onto my back and began the process of bearing down a bit, just lightly still because there were no doctors or anyone coaching me at that point.  Sometime later, I began to shake.  My legs, my body, feeling a combination of fatigue and endorphins.  My doula leaned down toward me, “Do you know what this means” she whispered.  “You’re transitioning.”  I’d read about this, just enough to know that this meant she’d be here soon.

An intern performed perineal massage while I worked out a breathing rhythm with my team.  Doula on my left, S. on the right, they held my legs, helping me to push to the count of ten, three times, over and over.  My yoga experience with focused breathing kicked in.  I thought back to my days in roller derby when my mantra was, “you can do anything for five minutes”, ten minutes…however many minutes this would take.  Each time I pushed, I grabbed the undersides of my thighs and pushed like it was the last push. I was in a haze when I noticed that S. was putting on blue surgical scrubs, and I knew we were close. I was wheeled into the OR where a NICU and cardio team was waiting for Stella.  I continued my pushing, trying to feel around for the hair that everyone was saying was appearing.  I could feel her moving downwards, a two steps forward, one step back dance with this little being descending through my pelvis.  When I could finally feel the hair, I exclaimed, “It’s like a puppy!”  Any moment now, I was sure.  Three more pushes.  Three more pushes.  Then someone asked me for a fourth push, and I knew this was it.  I felt the slippery release of pressure and exhaled.  She was here.

I saw her little gray form as she was swooped into the exam area, S. following the docs.  The doula and I were in awe.  I smiled through embarrassingly loud cries of joy.  Placenta passed and I was just listening for her tiny cries as they filled the air.  Moments later, they brought her to me and I saw the dewy eyes that I immediately recognized as being like my husband’s.  I don’t remember what I said to her, but I’ll never forget the way she looked toward my face, recognizing the sound of my voice near her ear.

I tried to ignore the cardiologist that had to come take her away a few minutes later, (I don’t envy the intern that has to take the newborn cub from the lioness)  handed her over knowing that S. could go up to NICU with her.  I was taken back to my room, made my phone calls to annouce her arrival, ordered some room service, and waited while the epidural wore off so that I could go see her.  It was about 2 hours later when S. came back for me and wheeled me to her.  We took turns snuggling her to our chests, taking in the details of her tiny face, noticing her tiny fingernails and thin lips.  I recognized the tiny hands with the thick palms, the button nose.  She was finally here.